This show truly is a modern version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, but with a love triangle, more violence and abuse.

An intelligent drama about the modern nature of relationships, and their quirks, acceptances and flaws, The One, written by Vicky Jones is an intense and emotive piece of theatre whose narrative takes apart what it is to be in a relationship in modern times.

Presented by Fire Curtain Co. as part of the inaugural Poppy Seed Festival, The One focuses on couple Harry (Ben Prendergast) and Jo (Kasia Kaczmarek) who can’t be apart, though maybe they shouldn’t be together. The picture of a modern dysfunctional relationship, the show follows the rise and fall of their 4 years together: pregnancy and abortion, the idea of an open relationship, BSDM, ex-partners and more in a tight 65 minute performance.

An evocative shake up of our normal theatrical viewing, this show opens up an explosive debate about consent and rape as one of its major plot points. The show challenges audiences to think about the discussion and dialogue we use to discuss sexual assault and rape in modern culture. With the arrival of close friend and ex-girlfriend Kerry (Emily Tomlins), a dialogue begins around her supposed sexual assault: do we call it assault? Is it rape? Did she need to speak up? The show successfully has the audience gasping and awkwardly laughing with the wicked humour as we navigate a difficult issue. In the director’s notes in the program, Tanya Dickson states that “theatre must be challenging so as to incite meaningful conversation about the world we live in”, and this statement resonates through the show.

Performances by Prendergast and Kaczmarek are strong, cold and wild, even with the heavy subject matter. The two of them enter into a competition of who can out wit, out last and hurt their opponent, from physical violence, taunts, deep discussions of their relationships and flat out lies. The performances, while a little slow to start with, deal with sexual references with the show opening with the couple engaging in a distracted quickie on the couch in front of the television.

The costumes were well stylized to today’s trends, and also had to be loose and allow for the freedom to rip them off whenever required, due to the heavy sexual references and acts in the show. The lighting is cleverly used to portray time of day, as well as create a television-like glow from the audience across the stage. Sound effects are good, from the use of ambient noise (including the clichéd evening crickets soundtrack) to imply time of day, as well incorporating the use of sound from television programs to the couple singing karaoke in the early hours. Cheap sound effects around just ringing (or what seems like it, due to some dead air and some slightly delayed reactions by the actors) the prop mobile phones have some success, and with some ambient music to keep the time passing during scene changes, the show is well filled with sound.

The set makes good use of the unique loft like space at 45 downstairs. While I’ve never not seen this venue set up with a couch, the set is a sprawling loft style apartment, with the show taking place inside Jo and Harry’s living room. Two things dictate the time passing: regular updates about her dilation from Jo’s sister, who is in labour, and a cleverly used screen projecting a digital clock. It’s a handy reminder that the play takes place over a roughly 14-hour period, yet gives us a slice of four years of troubled relationship.

The stage is well managed and chore graphed except for a slight hiccup involving a bottle of wine with no lid, that opening night saw spilled across the stage. This was well covered by Kaczmarek’s sarcastic and frustrated response to the little surprise. Placement of the actors around the wide stage was well done, and even from the very back row sightlines were good for the majority of the show.

All in all, this is a very interesting show to watch and to engage with. I hope all who have the chance to see it leave it a little more involved with the important dialogue the show is trying to start, as well as a notion of everything you just watched is 100% abusive, but that all people, situations and relationships are unique. You can see this evocative and challenging show at 45 downstairs until 13 December.